Here is a guide to cooking oils. There are a lot of cooking oils derived from different sources and they all come with their own benefits and shortcomings. Some of them are ideal options for dressings and toppings while others are put to better use when baking and frying.
Today, we’ll go through all the oils that can enter your kitchen and which ones are the healthiest options you can find.
For cooking purposes, it’s also important to consider whether the oil is still healthy to consume after you have heated it during cooking. This is important because different oils have varying smoke points or temperatures at which they are no longer stable. Some oils, even the healthiest types, should not be used for cooking at temperatures above their smoke point.
Looking for a delicious vinaigrette to top your salad? Here is a great recipe to try.
List of commonly found cooking oils
It’s easy to say that cooking oil can be healthy, but it’s not specific. Since there are so many types of cooking oils out there, there is no way you can categorize them all under the label of healthy.
Instead, it’s better to figure out why each oil is healthy in its own way and when they are best applicable for maximum health benefits. Before we break down into where you can apply oils the best, here is a brief list of cooking oils you can find in your kitchen.
Canola oil is derived from rapeseed plant seeds. The seeds are crushed and heated to make canola oil. They have a neutral taste and are all-purpose oils that can be used for frying, baking, sauteing, and grilling. Canola oil can be used for cooking.
This oil, once again, comes from seeds, only this time from sunflower seeds. The variant of sunflower actually affects the unsaturated fat content that you can find from the oil produced. Sunflower oil can be used both when cooking and as a topping over food.
Vegetable oil can be quite vague since there are so many veggies out there. What the name actually implies is oil derived from plant sources. Typically, you get a blend of various oils to achieve the final product. With a neutral flavor, vegetable oil is used when baking, sauteing, and frying rather than as a topping.
Olive oil is a fan favorite, as everyone knows about it. This oil is made by pressing olives until they turn into a paste. There is extra virgin olive oil and light olive oil which has undergone some artificial processing.
Extra virgin olive oil is the least possibly processed or refined option, coming to customers in its most natural taste. This olive oil is best used as a dressing since it has a strong taste and flavor that works wonderfully over salads and side dishes.
Light olive oil has a neutral flavor after the processing procedure, making it a better choice when cooking. It is a multi-purpose oil that can be used in frying, baking, and sauteing.
Olive oil is closely associated with the Mediterranean diet as it’s a healthy, flavorful, and beneficial option when it comes to oils.
Sesame oil has a strong flavor that resembles a nutty taste. Regular sesame oil can be used for general cooking while toasted sesame oil is favored for toppings. Sesame oil, as the name goes, comes from sesame seeds the same way that canola and sunflower oils do.
Much like the fruit itself, avocado oil also has a neutral taste and can be used similarly to olive oil. It also shares a healthy nutritional composition like olive oil with a high percentage of heart-healthy oleic acid.
One of the best things that avocado oil has got going for itself is that it maintains its nutritional quality at both high and low temperatures. I love and use avocado oil and coconut oil for cooking.
In this recipe, I am using unrefined extra virgin coconut oil. Delicious!
What is smoke point?
The smoke point for oil indicates when your oil starts to break down. Once this happens, it transfers from shimmering to smoking. This also indicates that your oil is no longer safe to eat.
There will be a burnt or bitter taste to the oil, as well as everything that gets cooked in it. This will also create harmful compounds in the oil that damage rather than help the body.
Smoke points for oils
All oils have a different smoke point. To know which oil is best for which purpose, it’s important to know the smoke points for each one.
- Canola oil is an all-purpose oil that can used for various jobs, it has a smoke point of 400 F.
- Sunflower oil is mostly used for cooking, baking, and sauteing needs rather than dressing and topping requirements. The smoke point is 440 F which is a higher smoke point than most other averages.
- Vegetable oil is once again a multipurpose oil that can be used for various jobs. It has a smoke point of 400 – 450 F so it has a higher smoke point than sesame and canola.
- The smoke point for extra virgin olive oil is relatively low being around 325-375 F. It is for this reason that extra virgin oil is a preferred option for toppings, but not the best option to use when doing any sort of cooking.
- Light olive oil is refined, meaning it lasts longer and doesn’t have as strong of a taste. It also has a higher smoke point of around 465 F. Refined olive oil is a better choice for cooking rather than topping.
- Sesame oil also has a lower smoke point than other oils though that varies based on the type of sesame oil. The smoke points range from 350 to 410 F. More neutral and refined sesame oil can be used for cooking, while natural oils can be used as dressing.
- Among healthy oils, avocado oil has a very impressive smoke point of approximately 520 F. This makes it an ideal option for high health cooking such as deep frying.
Cooking Oil Differences
There are many differences between various oils that can help you determine what works best in every situation.
Flavorful Vs Neutral Oils
Oils that are more natural will have a stronger flavor and a lower smoke point. They also have a shorter shelf life given their natural composition. These oils also contain more volatile compounds which deplete the shelf-life sooner.
Unrefined oil also contains more minerals, nutrients, and enzymes which make it a healthier option for dressings and toppings in place of butter and lard. Natural oils are also called cold-pressed, raw virgin, and unrefined oil commercially.
Neutral or refined oil has a longer shelf life since it is a processed product. It has a much higher smoke point than natural oils and fewer volatile compounds which lets it live longer. That said, through processing, there is less taste in the oil which makes it a better option exclusively for cooking rather than for dressing or topping.
Oils are used on a daily basis in the kitchen. To get the best out of your oils, be sure to know what type they are, where they are sourced from, and what purpose they serve best.
I personally do not use vegetable oil, canola, or sunflower oil. The oils used in my kitchen are avocado or coconut oil for cooking, sesame oil, and extra virgin olive oil for salads and sides. This blog post is to help you discover healthier options.
Check out my recipes on the plant-based Eva YouTube channel, where showcase recipes using healthy ingredients.
If you are looking to study in holistic nutrition, read my review on the Nutraphoria School of Holistic Nutrition.